By Yennifer Padilla
You think of the music, beautiful beaches, soccer, carnival, capoeira, the amazing food! Almost all aspects of what makes Brazil Brazil has been because of the undeniable contributions by the Afro-Brasileiros. Today, image is everything, especially in the fashion and beauty world. When it comes to Brazil and beauty you instantly think of models Adrianna Lima and Gisele Bunchen. These are the figures that have represented this country but the fashion and beauty world have made drastic changes over the years and is becoming inclusive of all shades, sizes, genders, and ages. This is not only true for models who are at the forefront but also behind the scenes with beauty gurus and fashion designers. In Brazil, more than 50% of the population identifies as black or brown and the afro-brazilian fashion industry is thriving despite the imitation and appropriation.
So what exactly is Afro-Brazilian fashion? Although it is open to interpretation there are common roots in the use of styles, prints and fabrics from African countries mixed with distinct Brazilian aspects. One distinct Afro-Brazilian designer named Renato Carneiro is the inventor and founder of Katuka Africanidades. Renato and his family are originally from São Paulo, Brazil and are considered Paulistanos. When Renato visited Salvador, he was inspired and felt a connection to the city. Eventually, he would move to Salvador and pursue his calling as a fashion designer, founding Katuka Africanidades. His shop is a 3-story building on a street corner with a beautiful view of the ocean.
“I make my clothes for the Black people who want to reclaim their connection to their African heritage.” Renato felt strongly about creating spaces to express the African identity of the people. Spaces to express not only their identity but sexuality. His design’s purpose isn’t just to be worn, but to inspire and educate the public about what it means to be Afro-Brazilian. Some of his inspirations for the colors, fabrics and jewelry designs can be traced to Nigeria, Senegal, and Benin. As mentioned before, the Afro-Brazilian fashion trends are growing in popularity but unfortunately what is considered “trendy” or “in” is largely influenced by white designers who claim that Afro-Brazilian fashion is not a place for the politics of race but rather open for all to use. This is when it becomes important for the people to be conscious about who they are consuming from. Using culture for personal gain rather than spreading a message of self-love and acceptance continues to be a problem, not only in Brazil but around the world.
Renato Carneiro’s aim is to bring visibility to this African rooted culture and to reclaim African identities back into the hands of descendants themselves. “I wanted to create a place that affirmed the plurality of all our lives. A place that focused on the heritage of Afro-Brazilians, people in the diaspora and in Africa.” Renato has an unquestionably deep respect and commitment for his African roots.